Democracy Has Prevailed.

August 20, 2011

Ilya Somin Reponds!

That was fast!

Today, Professor Ilya Somin responded to my blog post of this morning.

Hello Volokh readers!

From his opening:
The implication is that the media must disclose any connections, however indirect, that an expert has with politically motivated funders of any kind. Being an adjunct scholar at Cato is an unpaid position that doesn’t give Cato any control over my research (or me over theirs) — much less giving any such control to individual Cato donors. If that is going to be the standard, it should be applied consistently across the board.

For example, most major universities get funding from liberal foundations such as the Ford Foundation and the MacArthur Foundation, and often also from individual liberal donors such as George Soros. Many of the liberal legal scholars who are quoted in the media in support of the individual mandate are affiliated with the American Constitution Society, which also gets some of its funding from Soros (full disclosure: I’ve spoken at several ACS events myself). Some of them also blog at liberal legal blogs, such as Balkinization.
All I'd have to say to the first sentence is this: Well yea.

And did you catch the ending of the second paragraph? When he discloses that he's spoken at ACS events?

Full (or at least fuller) disclosure is a good thing. Too bad it just doesn't happen on the pages of the Tribune-Review.

Let's do a little thought experiment. Since George Soros is mentioned in Somin's response, let's start there.

Suppose George Soros owned the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. And then suppose the editorial page of the P-G quoted (or perhaps just interviewed someone who writes for it) Media Matters, a left leaning news fact-checking organization that Soros has given a million dollars to. Now suppose they did that without disclosing those financial connections. What do you think would happen then?

This is my point.


Maria Lupinacci said...

Way to go. :-)

EdHeath said...

Man, you are getting slammed over at the "Volokh Conspiracy". I think your simple message, that particularly the opinion pages at the Trib ought to reveal a financial relationship between sources they use and their newspaper's owner's contributions to those sources is absolutely reasonable. Apparently conservatives disagree.

The thing is that a ten second google search reveals that at least some people allege that George Mason University is owned by the Koch brothers, like apparently Florida State University's economic department also is. I would like to believe that academic research is non-partisan, like Somin suggests he is. Except he uses his response to you to go ahead and subtly slam the idea that the individual mandate in the health care reform is constitutional (by raising Soros funding of the ACS and suggesting that liberal scholars surely are not influenced by that). By raising a counter argument and then saying that it is not relevant, he manages to appear non-partisan and at the same to raise the false equivalency that the liberals either play the same game of taking money or are even worse since they chose not to reveal such connections. Somin goes so far as to explicitly discuss the case of a reporter quoting a liberal scholar without divulging the scholar's connection to the ACS.

He even suggests that perhaps all scholars are biased, that there is no such thing as studying topics simply to understand the world, that all scholars are partisan. He is careful to finish that statement by differentiating it from the effect of contributed monies.

He could have used a club, but I guess we aren't smart enough to understand a blow to the head.

Dayvoe said...

I like the comment saying I should get my own chalk board and cable show.

John Fast said...

Okay, I'll bite: What are *your* financial affiliations, which should be disclosed in a disclaimer at the head of your blog?

FWIW I don't receive any money from George Mason University, or the Cato Institute, or the Koch brothers.

In fact, I'm a student at GMU, so that means that *I* am forced to pay *them*.

If the fact that A gets money from B means that A is more likely to say or do what B wants even when they don't agree with it, does the fact that I have to pay tuition to GMU mean that I'm less likely to say or do what they want, if I disagree with it? (Actually, some professors at another university that I attended complained that I asked them "disrespectful questions.")

Or does it simply mean that the professors at GMU are more likely to say or do what I want, even if they don't want to? Cool, that means I can relax and quit worrying that they might give me a bad grade on my exams!

Anonymous said...

John, Surely, you cannot be questioning the idea that people are influenced by a desire to please the people or institutions that provide their livlihood.

EdHeath said...

John Fast, I believe many, perhaps most people understand that some "Think Tanks" work to support some agenda, conservative, liberal, libertarian, what have you. The idea that the Koch Brothers might have given enough money to a University (such as FSU or GMU) to perhaps influence or even control hiring decisions is (I believe) something new for most people. At GMU, apparently, the Koch Brothers fund something specifically called the Mercatus Center, which may mean the rest of the University is entirely independent of them. Still, this relationship between a University and these high dollar donors who seemingly have an agenda means to me that when a GMU faculty member is quoted in a news piece, I wonder if his/her quote is informed by scholarship or political bias.

coyote said...

I'm still waiting for the answer to Mr. Fast's question. I'm sure Davyoe isn't ashamed of it, so Davyoe, what's the answer?

As for objectivity of scholarship and research, this particular issue is a combination of politics and logic, which apparently cannot be objective. Either you do or you do not read the commerce clause as empowering the federal government to force individual behavior, such as the individual mandate. I don't read it that way, but then I've always had trouble with people telling me what to do. I've had even more trouble with people who believe that they know better than I do what's best for me.

It appears to me that many others do not share this affliction.

Dayvoe said...

Ok, I'll bite.

I have no financial affiliations with this blog.

coyote said...


The issue isn't whether you have a financial tie to this blog, rather whether you have any financial ties that would bias your views. Most people do.

Do you?

Dayvoe said...

Actually, that's not the issue.

At least not the issue of my original posting - which was that while Richard Mellon Scaife financially supports the think tanks his editorial page cites, that same editorial page fails to point out that support when it cites them.

Anything else is just changing the subject.

coyote said...

Thanks for clearing that up for me.

Fernandinande said...

Anything else is just changing the subject.

The subject changed from "goose" to "gander"; IOW, you're a hypocrite.

Dayvoe said...

As soon as I own a newspaper and donate millions of dollars to some think tanks that my editorial page cites without disclosing my financial support of those think tanks, THEN I'll be a hypocrite.

In the mean time, not so much.

But thanks for trying anyway.